Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's UN speech may have just helped Israel

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's United Nations speech that suggested a US hand in 9/11 could bolster Isreali voices that label Iran an irrational actor.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a news conference in New York, September 23.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks at the United Nations Thursday that suggested an American hand in orchestrating 9/11 to "save the Zionist regime" may have disturbed US observers, but Israelis are used to the Iranian president's shock tactics.

Israelis appear to be less focused on Iran today as attention has turned to restarted peace talks with the Palestinians. What's more, according to analysts, Israelis have been reassured that the US and Europe are as equally determined as their government is to block Iran's nuclear ambitions.

That said, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s theories about 9/11 are likely to add strength to voices in Israel who see Iran as an irrational actor that could attack the Jewish state if it was armed with a nuclear weapon.

"If you look at the history of warfare, there is no boundary between irrational rhetoric and policy making. Words reflect beliefs," says Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

"This adds more evidence to show that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, there will not be a stable deterrence like the US and the Soviet Union. Such a situation requires leaders to be rational and have a firm understanding of the other side, and that clearly does not apply in the case of Iran," he says.

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Ahmadinejad has spooked Israelis in recent years by threatening the Jewish state with destruction and by hosting international conferences that promote Holocaust denial. Many politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even compare the Islamic government in Tehran to Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

The Iranian leader’s remarks yesterday at the UN are only likely to further isolate Tehran and convince the West of the government’s radical tendencies.

"He made himself look like a bigger extremist than before," says Meir Javedanfar, a Tel Aviv-based expert on Iran. "In the long run, this is good for Israel because Ahmadinejad does a better job at portraying himself as a fundamentalist with little credibility than Israel could."

A fourth round of international sanctions approved earlier this year against Iran has calmed worries among Israelis that they may find themselves alone one day facing a nuclear-armed Tehran.

The willingness of Prime Minister Netanyahu to pursue peace talks with the Palestinians is a sign that Israel and the US and Europe have hit on a common approach with which to confront Iran, Mr. Javendanfar said.

Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric did not make the front pages of Israel’s major newspapers, though a report in the liberal Haaretz called it a "new height in poisonous declarations."

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Though an August report in The Atlantic suggested that many Israeli officials believe there’s a greater than 50 percent chance of an attack in the coming year, many average Israelis say they are not worried.

"I’ve survived five wars. I’m not afraid," says Meir Zolsham, a laundromat owner who said he laughed at the remarks of the Iranian president. "A man who hates Israel so much that he accuses the US of being behind 9/11 is definitely not someone who can be believed."

Paz Aharon said he expects that Israel’s government will coordinate whatever response is necessary to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, including a potential attack. Mr. Aharon dismissed the speech yesterday at the UN as absurd: "It’s a stand-up act."

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